Attorney General Bonta Calls On National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to Save Children’s Lives by Improving Car Seat Standards

Monday, July 12, 2021
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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general in a letter calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to improve the safety of child car seats. Motor vehicles are the leading cause of death for children ages 13 and under, and data from NHTSA shows that car crashes kill on average about 19 children each week. Children have an increased risk of injury and death from side-impact crashes compared to other types of traffic accidents, but NHTSA provides no side-impact testing safety standards for child car seats. While many manufacturers advertise that their car seats have been side-impact tested, no federal standards exist to ensure safety.

California had the second-highest child traffic fatality rate in the U.S. in 2018, with 93 California children dying from vehicular accidents. Parents can reduce the risk of injury by up to 82 percent by placing children under age four into car seats. Children should begin the process in a rear-facing car seat before transitioning to a front-facing car seat, and then finally a booster seat. Since each seat-type provides less protection than the type before it, parents should delay transitioning children to the next stage of car seat until the child exceeds their current seat's height or weight limits. 

“Parents care about nothing more than the safety of their children,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We're calling on NHTSA to do everything in its power to set rules for child car seat safety and help parents understand how to use the devices. Currently, federal regulations do not require car seat manufacturers to notify parents that the transition to the next stage of car seat should be delayed as long as possible for safety reasons. It’s also unacceptable that, after 20 years, we still lack federal safety standards for child car seats when it comes to side impacts. Consumers should be assured that their child’s car seat meets a federal safety benchmark.”

Since their introduction in the 1970s, child car seats have significantly reduced the risk of injury to children, and numerous technological advances have made them safer over the years.  The coalition's letter notes that NHTSA – the federal agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation that is responsible for preventing road-related injuries and deaths – shares credit in this success. However, Congress required NHTSA to adopt side-impact standards for child car seats over 20 years ago – but the agency has failed to do so. 

Data from NHTSA shows that children who survive side-impact collisions often sustain serious injuries such as spinal cord injury which can lead to paralysis, traumatic brain injury, concussion, neck injuries, or broken bones. Requiring manufacturers to adhere to standard side-impact testing protocols would prevent child injury and death by ensuring minimum standards of safety are met.

The letter also urges NHTSA to require car seats to include a label that clearly states that children should stay in their current child car seat until they exceed the seat's maximum height or weight limit. Although parents and children are often excited to celebrate a milestone of maturity by graduating to new car seat, the letter notes that “moving out of a rear-facing seat too soon increases the risk of more severe head and spine injuries during a crash. And moving out of a forward-facing seat too soon can result in serious spinal cord and abdominal injuries in a crash.” Booster seats “should only be used for children who are of appropriate height and weight, and who possess the emotional maturity to refrain from unbuckling and moving too much in the seat while the car is in motion.”

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here



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